We are on a spiritual journey. We are blessed by the journey, but often in ways that we weren't expecting and in ways that may cause a fuss among other people. Through all of that, we find God—not in the fuss, but in the surprising truth of our own story, the unexpected truth of our own experience, the mysterious truth of our own encounter with God's surprising love and grace."—Rev. Sandra K. Johnson, from "Much Ado About Something"
Have you ever read a Bible verse and then asked yourself the question, “where does my story meet this text”? I appreciate Rev Johnson’s insightfulness and her way with words. We ARE on a journey – all of us. Regardless of our faith traditions, experiences, backgrounds, flavors or colors – we are all on a journey. We do have the gift, the ability, to find God in the truth of our own stories. And our own story is unique to us – no one else shares exactly the same story, experience, or understanding of self.
Ezekiel was called to be a prophet. He had no doubt he was called but I’m sure he probably didn’t want to at first. Jonah was the one who, when called by God, did the only rational thing: he ran. But God caught up to Jonah and he also brought Ezekiel in to ministry in spite of themselves. Being called is not just restricted to those in full-time ministry. You don’t need to wear a robe or a collar to realize that you have been called. I believe that all of us are called in to something. Every day YOU are being called to follow the great commandment to love one another.
There are so many homeless people in our own country. There are close to 2 million homeless youth, ages 15-17, in this country. In my own city, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there are over 400 homeless youth who seek a place to rest every single night. Health care is a long forgotten luxury. Many turn to drugs or prostitution to turn a quick buck – a fast food burger to fill their empty stomachs. “State of Youth Homelessness,” a study prepared by researchers at the Center for Urban Initiatives and Research at UW-Milwaukee determined that 25% of these youth identified with being gay or lesbian. I read one story – echoed I’m sure by thousands of others – of a young man who came out to his parents his junior year in high school and was kicked out of the home based solely on the fact that he identified himself as being gay and shared it with his parents.
Rev. Cody Sanders says, “The call to ministry and the call to coming out are always risky ventures filled with tension; tension between knowing one’s internal, deeply held identity as called of God, or created by God and knowing the risk of identifying this inner voice to others. Both the calling and the coming out puts one at odds with others within society and within the church.” Another journey – another opportunity to find God in and through our own life experiences. The “unexpected truth of our own experience” as Johnson states.
Joseph was called by God. I really have a difficult time trying to wrap my brain around this man, Joseph. Why he didn’t run, like Jonah, is beyond me. He would have been totally justified in my book. The fact that he did not turn on his faith is somewhat of a miracle. Rejection of God and/or church is typically a result of anger or rejection and Joseph must have felt both. He did everything he was supposed to do and all of a sudden his future bride is pregnant. Surely they would be shunned by the community, his friends and his family. Would the family even recognize them as a couple and would they continue to offer their support of the marriage? This experience would surely put him at odds with his society and religious elders. Joseph knew, however, of his own identity as called by God – it was his role – his job – his calling – his purpose – his answer to “what is the meaning of life”. He knew the risks associated with identifying his inner voice to others yet he did exactly that!
Not much is known about Joseph. In accordance with the custom of the day we can surmise that Joseph was probably significantly older than Mary. It took a long time for a man to become financially secure enough to even consider marrying and then when they did, they typically chose younger wives who could bear many children. A generation is defined as the span of time between a man’s birth and the birth of his first child. In Biblical times an average generation was 40 years long so there is a good possibility that Joseph was around 40 while Mary is believed to have been a young teenager. Scandalous to today’s standards but the norm for those days. What was NOT the norm back then, and is often accepted now, is the pregnancy before marriage. Talk about a scandal. Yet both Mary and Joseph knew their calling. I’m positive they were scared – I’m sure they were full of anxiety and fear of others. They probably considered, at first, a few options to hide this situation, like any human would instinctively do. But they followed their calling. They knew who they were at the core of their being – they knew exactly what God created them to be and what God expected of them.
I’m pulling a comparison, albeit a dangerous one, between Mary and Joseph and the homeless teenagers in my own backyard. I point out the glbt homeless youth because, frankly, my heart tends to bleed harder for them. Two steps is all it took for them to find themselves sleeping in cardboard boxes under bridges or in homemade shelters of drift wood down by the river – in fact, if you come to Milwaukee I’ll personally take you to those locations and you can see for yourself that I’m not exaggerating. They exist. It took two steps – self-identity/awareness, then self-proclamation – then homelessness. These are stories that wrinkle the heart. They are stories that should never exist but must be told. It is the story of Joseph and Mary and no-room-at-the-inn. It is the story of the 400+ in my backyard. How many are in your backyard?
Remember the “unexpected truth” of our own experience? Joseph, Mary, the homeless, the homeless youth – all unexpected truths of personal experiences. Embracing whose we are – embracing that which is a Holy creation – only to be tossed aside.
Jesus felt this, too, you remember. Jesus was rejected, remember? Imagine how it felt to hear the crowd yell “crucify him”. Imagine how it felt to hear the ones you walked with, talked with and grew up with, your child-hood buddies, your friends, your pals and your family – your entire community – turning its back on you. Christ felt it – the homeless feel it – the homeless glbt youth feel it – perhaps you feel it as well. Rest assured that Christ knows exactly how the homeless are feeling – how the rejected feel – he experienced it first-hand and He has not forgotten.
Our own blessings may very well cause a fuss among others. Our own callings may and probably will cause a fuss among others including those with whom we are close. But it should be in and through these callings and blessings that we come to a fuller understanding of God’s creation – God’s call on humanity. God’s creating spirit has yielded such a diverse world that not one creature is exactly like the other and THAT is the mysterious truth found in God’s amazing and surprising love and grace. Just as pain, sorrow, disappointment, depression, and negative circumstances knows no prejudice – neither does God’s love and grace. For through these experiences and through each one of our unique and precious stories and journeys is found the very nature of the Holy – love and grace.